'World War Z': Brad Pitt, killer CGI wrestle PC to a draw

U.N. kleptocrats in charge of the U.S. Navy? Zombies are better qualified. Photo: Paramount Pictures

WASHINGTON, July 2, 2013 – After all the trashing this film took from critics during pre-release, the new Brad Pitt horror-thriller “World War Z” actually turned out to be a pretty decent big budget effort in both categories, at least as far as we’re concerned. CGI effects were exceptional and, to our eyes at least, much more organic in the film’s structure than the “Man of Steel” CGI. The acting was kinetic and often good. The film’s decibel level was viscerally summer-smash off the charts. And the action pretty much never let up.

This, of course, means that there really isn’t much of a plot in this film, just scary, freaky monster stuff. Also problematic—at least for the shrinking number of people who even notice such things these days—was the genuinely creepy “world government” message that lurked around the edges of this flick. The conflict between politics and zombie action is apparently, at least in part, what got the post-production of this film gummed up in the first place.

“World War Z”—whose title alludes to “zombies” with a “z,” get it, “Sesame Street” fans?—begins, more or less, “in medias res.” That means “the middle of things” as we learned in Latin 101, back in the Jurassic Park days when such things were actually taught in high school.

Brad Pitt’s family is in big, big trouble in the middle of NYC, but have no idea why, at least for starters. (Paramount)

But let’s dispense with that kind of intellectual element here, as it doesn’t really have much place in the discussion of a film like this, which ultimately aspires to thrill and entertain.

After a brief chance to get all warm and fuzzy about a perfectly ideal American family that can afford to live in New York—complete with a mom (Mireille Enos as Karin Lane), an actual, non-divorced dad, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) who is loving, brave, and not stupid—the entire crew is caught up in what appears to be an entirely unexpected, apocalyptic disaster scene right in the middle of Manhattan. And everywhere else.


SEE RELATED: Review: ‘Monsters University’ or monster mash?


Quickly and efficiently, we learn that Gerry Lane is a former U.N. secret kind of guy who’s apparently seen too much misery around the world and has retired from that organization to become a metrosexual, unemployed New Yorker and hang around with his family a lot. Which is admirable, actually, but there’s more on this later.

Anyhow, Brad/Gerry and company are all swept up in the middle of a surging disaster they don’t understand, which is actually one of this film’s strengths. It takes us right into the action with plenty of jitter-cam motion, and we’re as confused by the rapidly unfolding disaster as the protagonists are. Great technique, and effective, too.

Along with Brad’s family, we eventually figure out that some kind of rapidly spreading virus can and is producing phalanxes of zombies within what seem like mere seconds after once-normal human beings are munched. Worse, as mass quantities of new zombies or zombie-like creatures are created, they surge ahead at top speed like a bee swarm or an army ant column, engulfing and infecting any humans in their path.

These particular zombies swarm like army ants. Best to stay out of their way. But where? (Paramount.)


SEE RELATED: Review: Super-duper CGI nearly ruins ‘Man of Steel’ reboot


After a selfless Latino family takes Brad and company into their tiny, squalid apartment, saving them from the horde at least for awhile, our hero, activating his U.N. chits, arranges to have them all miraculously airlifted out of Manhattan before they’re discovered. Unfortunately, only the Latino family’s son is saved along with Brad’s brood as they head off to a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. The great ship is currently the temporary home and HQ of the Navy’s new Commander-in-Chief, actor Fana Mokoena, aka U.N. high official Thierry Umutoni.

Theirry and the Navy threaten Brad back into U.N. servitude, and, for the rest of the film, our hero embarks on a mad dash around the globe, searching for an antidote to the zombie madness that’s about to destroy us all.

This weird, unquestioning U.N.-centric command structure gives you some insight into this film’s weird, post-colonial politics. According to London’s “Evening Standard,” Brad Pitt, who also produced this film, claims “his upcoming zombie blockbuster World War Z got ‘bogged down’ in being political,” which is likely where its post-production problems began.

“The actor,” the “Standard” continues, “has revealed that several of the film’s scenes shot in Budapest have been cut from the finished movie because, although he was initially more interested in making a ‘political film,’ the underlying social agenda became ‘too much’ for a summer blockbuster.”

Pitt noted that at the time that he and, presumably, the film’s parade of hired and fired script writers, were “really interested in a more political film, using the zombie trope as a kind of Trojan horse for asking, ‘What would happen to sociopolitical lines if there was a pandemic like this? Who would be on top? Who would be the powerful countries and who would be the most vulnerable?’”

(Who would understand what a “trope” even is?)

In between takes, Brad Pitt explains to the crew what a trope is and how to use it. This still, marked up by always in-your-face Perez Hilton, offers one observation.

“’We wanted to really explore that, but it was just too much’” Pitt continued in his interview. “’We got bogged down in it; it was too much to explain. It gutted the fun of what these films are meant to be.’”

Well, yeah. Apparently, this narrative line was what really delayed the film’s premiere and got all the critics buzzing about how lousy it would be. In point of fact, Pitt finally realized that his team was burdening what is essentially an action film with more overt political propaganda than a summer audience is likely to put up with. Wisely, they chose to scissor most of this out in the end. That’s probably why the film they ended up with, while not likely to dominate the summer box office final figures, nonetheless should eventually make them some money.

What remains of the politics, however, is a bit irritating, at least to this critic. The film’s opening montage features snippets from the Sierra Club playbook, hints about so-called “global warming,” allusions to chemicals and genetic engineering here, approving, third-world, one-world, post-colonial metaphors there. You get the picture.

Although it’s never overtly stated in the final cut, the message is clear. We human beings, particularly we grossly overcompensated, disgusting Westerners and/or capitalists, are somehow guilty for creating the plague that now seems destined to end the human species. It’s the same old, tiresome lefty crappola we’ve been hectored with since, oh, about 1968, and it’s gotten a little tiresome.

But that, no doubt, is why the U.N., our one true world government, is now in command of U.S. Navy ships in this film. Okay, Washington and its crony capitalist elite government officials have been wiped out by the zombies already. So has the Moscow thug-ocracy and God knows where else. Somehow, even as New York itself was being wiped out. So who’s left with even a whiff of legitimacy? (Except for the Israelis, but that’s another plot diversion.)

Here’s a rather fresh looking NYC zombie, perhaps a former OWS sympathizer who’s now ready to munch out on the 1%. (Paramount.)

Yet somehow, in spite of this out-of-control global mess, the New York-based U.N. command structure has managed to survive. Neatly, the U.S. Navy brass must have already pledged allegiance to their new bosses without complaint, which neatly solves the U.N.’s lack of its own standing armed forces. We wonder how many Marines of our acquaintance would buy into this development.

It’s all pretty absurd if you think about it. But fortunately, whatever additional preaching was contained in the film’s original material—likely pushed by third-world ambassador Angelina Jolie—saner heads ultimately seem to have prevailed, preventing the film from becoming another didactic disaster.

The ghost of politics remains is still mildly bizarre, though. That includes the inference that we are likely to find at least some preliminary answers to the zombie plague at a crippled but still functional U.N./NIH-style facility hidden somewhere in Wales. For an organization that’s never done much else besides spreading anti-U.S. propaganda and redistributing American taxpayer money to a bunch of third-world kleptocrats, the U.N. gets an awful lot of credit for advance planning in this film.

But we digress.

Most of “World War Z,” thankfully, is directly related toward its main premise, the desperate dash to stop those swarming zombies before they take over the world and before we’re all gone. And things look bad. Because these are very, very determined zombies indeed.

Riffing on a brief army ant montage that occurs near the opening of the film, we are constantly regaled with claustrophobic, frightening close-ups and spectacular aerial CGI pans of the film’s vast and never-ending monster mash, with hordes and legions of zombies literally swarming around, over, and up any obstacle in their path, a destructive, irresistible tide of post-human monsters who’ll get us in the end unless we can run faster than DC Comics supersonic superhero The Flash. It’s all really impressive, seriously. 

Don’t believe us. Check out the trailer below:

So with this massive disaster arrayed all around us, will Brad save us? Will his hapless family, exiled from the Navy ship where they thought they were safe, survive to the final frame? Will buildings, tanks, and people stop blowing up before we lose what’s left of our hearing? For answers to these and other pressing questions, check out “World War Z” yourself.

For all our apparent crankiness, “WWZ” ended up being a much better film than the aforementioned flash-mob of pre-release critics could ever have imagined. Material that interfered with the actual plot rightfully ended up on the cutting room floor. While not obliterated, the film’s simplistic political message proved almost nonexistent in the final cut. (At least this final cut.) And the numerous, seething, CGI action scenes approach the overwhelming effectivness of the natural spectacles we’ve seen in the best IMAX films. The computer and camera work alike succeed in pulling the audience right into the action.

Pitt and the cast give a credible and often excellent performance, delivering even the occasional, corny, hackneyed Hollywood line with convincing sincerity. They create a frightening, surreal reality that you genuinely hope you’ll survive.

Like last week’s review of “Monsters University,” we’ll give this film a slightly better than good rating. Its conclusion is perhaps too open-ended. And there’s still a certain shapelessness to it all.

But for creating an instant catastrophe that sucks us right in before we have time to reflect, we have to give Brad Pitt and crew a very big hat tip. And even better, Pitt’s team managed to have enough sense and self-confidence to ignore the naysayers and come up with a far better horror-action thriller than anyone could have imagined, even under intense pressure.

Moneywise, “World War Z’s” opening numbers did not triumph over Disney-Pixar’s “Monsters University” last week. Although not incapable of supporting a flop (as per last year’s vanished-without-a-trace “Jon Carter” epic), the Disney studios still nearly always  put out the kinds of films that young moms and dads love to take their kids to, confident that such movies won’t make yet another kid-damaging contribution to Hollywood’s consistently low moral tone, so “Monsters’” box office win shouldn’t surprise anyone.

It will be interesting to see if another Disney film—this week’s “Lone Ranger” reboot—will do as well when it opens tomorrow and Thursday. Like “WWZ,” word of mouth has been awful, and critics are sharpening their knifes. So the question is: Will the Ranger, along with big box office draw Johnny Depp as Tonto, confound the critics like Brad Pitt did in “WWZ;” or will Disney studios have another “John Carter” on their collective hands before the weekend is over?

Stay tuned. We’ll have the definitive answer for you soon. (Or we’ll claim to.)

Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.

Follow Terry on Twitter @terryp17

 


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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, movies and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was formerly the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2009) before moving online with Communities in 2010.  

 

 

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